Opportunity didn't have to knock very hard for Kayli O'Flanagan to hear it.
She answered that door in a heartbeat and now has the chance of which she's always dreamed.
O'Flanagan, a 2009 Seneca High School graduate who starred there and at Illinois Valley Community College, has accepted the position of varsity girls basketball head coach beginning this fall. She replaces Luke Windy, who had two solid seasons in the post but this summer moved back to that same position he'd previously held at Morris High School.
"This opportunity is one in a million to me," said O'Flanagan. "I feel that a lot of girls who grow up playing basketball always feel they want to get to that next level, and this is my dream, so this is actually a dream come true for me. To be here locally in the Illinois Valley, at a well-known high school with a good reputation for girls basketball, I'm just super excited. I feel really blessed."
"We're very excited to add Kayli to our coaching staff," said Marquette principal Brooke Rick, who added O'Flanagan was chosen from a handful of applicants. "She comes to us very highly recommended after what she accomplished over at St. Bede, and we're very impressed with her. We feel she'll be the best fit for the program, with her experience and her energy being exactly what we need to keep the program going strong."
O'Flanagan, a three-sport athlete at Seneca with four years of varsity hoops competition under head coach Barb Beck, moved on to Illinois Valley Community College where she played on two Lady Eagles squads that qualified for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament before going on to Illinois State University to finish her degree in human resource management in 2014.
"She played for Barb Beck," said Todd Hopkins, the MA scheduling coordinator and longtime girls hoops coach now in charge of the boys program. "That's good enough for me."
After graduating from ISU, O'Flanagan was an assistant coach to Julie Sherbeyn with the IVCC volleyball program for a few seasons, citing "everything I learned about coaching from her has been aplicable to high school. It was a great experience."
She got into the prep level of coaching first as a summer camps coach at Seneca with Betty Novotney — who she credits with "jump-starting" her desire to be a head coach at such a young age — before in 2016 joining varsity head coach Tom McGunnigal's successful program at St. Bede Academy. She had two seasons as the JV coach and varsity assistant before being given this opportunity at Marquette.
"My influences come from a wide array of people," said O'Flanagan, currently the IT director for Milton Pope Elementary School. "I learned a lot under Coach McGunnigal and also by just watching everyone on TV, including Pat Summitt, who had a huge legacy for her students first, basketball second. That's going to be really big for me.
"These (MA) girls are going to be on the court, they're gonna battle, they're gonna battle, and when it comes to the end of it and they graduate from here, I want them to be well-rounded in all aspects, not just in what they did on the court."
O'Flanagan said her goal for the first season is to get to know her players and to continue the success the program enjoyed this last winter when it went 20-5, won Flanagan's Stone Seed Classic, their own Christmas Shootout and the Tri-County Conference regular-season crown.
"That's a lot. Those are big shoes to fill here," she said, "but my goals for the first season are to get to know the girls and find what works best for us moving forward to keep the program heading in the right direction it was last season."
"From what I've come to know about Marquette's program, the one word that comes to mind is solid, as are all the athletic programs here. The kids are determined, they work hard and you can see it at game time, and I'm sure that behind the scenes and in the offseason, that's multiplied 20-fold. They get out there and they want to get something, and to be involved in that type of program is really exciting to me."